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UN: Torture Widespread Around World

Manfred Nowak, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture (file photo)

The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture says torture is increasing around the world due to the global fight against terrorism, organized crime and rising crime rates in many countries. The investigator, Manfred Nowak, submitted a "Global Study On Torture" on Wednesday to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The study is based on Nowak's more than five years of experience as the U.N.'s special investigator on torture. He says that very few countries, such as Denmark, have eradicated torture.

Of the many countries he has visited during his tenure, Nowak says Equatorial Guinea is one of the worst. "It is one of the only two [countries] where I found a systematic practice of torture," he said.

"More or less every person whom I talked to in police custody, but also who were later transferred to a prison, said, 'I have been seriously tortured.' We have all the evidence, medical evidence and other evidence. I even found the torture instruments as described before by the detainees in the police stations. They even did not bother to take them away," he added.

Nowak says some governments who had invited him to conduct his investigation - including China, Jordan, Indonesia, Equatorial Guinea and Kazakhstan - put him under intense surveillance and intimidated witnesses.

He says many others, including Egypt, Ethiopia and Iran, failed to respond to requests for visits. One of the worst experiences Nowak says he had was in Zimbabwe, where he was detained overnight at Harare airport and then expelled from the country.

The U.N. investigator says torture is practiced mainly to extract confessions from people who are accused of a crime. The confessions are then used in court as evidence. Nowak says the victims are usually poor and powerless.

Nowak says torture also is widely used to extract intelligence information in the global fight against terrorism. He says the reaction of the United States and its allies to the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on New York and Washington have had a very negative influence on the prohibition of torture.

"And although [U.S.] President [Barack] Obama changed the policy and is looking to the future - not anymore to apply enhanced interrogation methods, which in reality amounted to torture -- still the damage is done to the overall approach to torture. So many countries felt that even if the United States is officially torturing, why should not we also torture? That was a clear statement that I received, for instance, from the speaker of parliament in Jordan," said Nowak.

Nowak says much has changed for the better under U.S. President Barack Obama's administration. But he says he is disappointed that the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba has not been closed as Mr. Obama promised during his election campaign.

Nowak points out that European countries have been quick to criticize the existence of the Guantanamo Bay facility, but that they have been reluctant to take detainees, which would help make the center's closure possible.